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TELEVISION
Edited by Richard O'Brien and Hank Hersch
April 28, 1997
Center PiecesESPN's Sports Center Commercials
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April 28, 1997

Television

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Center Pieces
ESPN's Sports Center Commercials

The idea of broadcaster as celebrity is nothing new, but ESPN's SportsCenter anchors, who visit our homes a mind-boggling 60 hours per week, have taken the concept to extremes. When the anchors took center stage in the "This is SportsCenter" promos that ESPN began airing in September 1995, we wondered, Do we really want to see more of these guys?

Turns out we did. The ads are not only the best thing on ESPN, but they're also among the best things on TV. Produced by Weiden & Kennedy, the spots have the absurdist quality of a Letterman video road trip. The anchors seem unshakably at home, whether dancing with the Washington Bullets' 7'7" Gheorghe Muresan (as Kenny Maynes and Karl Ravech do) or passing 87-pound gymnast Kerri Strug around the office. "It's because the spots are filmed on our turf," says Dan Patrick, who stars in a couple of the ads. "That's my cubicle. That's our parking lot. We're comfortable."

The athletes—notably Jim Harbaugh, Grant Hill and Dan O'Brien—seem comfortable too, partly because no huge fees are involved; a guest star receives just $1,000 for his chosen charity. But the spots have acquired cachet, and ESPN fields calls every day from agents who want to show that their client can be a hip ham.

The most remarkable aspect of the campaign is its consistency. Forty-nine ads have been filmed, and only one—in which NHL goon Rob Ray viciously pounds a deliveryman—was a total dud. As for the rest, here are our top five.

1) Patrick's late-night encounter with piano man Hill.

2) The on-air flameout ("That game sucked!") of the teenage broadcast phenom who "came out too early."

3) David Carradine's Kung Fu self-defense tips for sideline reporters, which include using a yardage marker to take out a heavily padded actor in an Albert Belle jersey.

4) A surprisingly at-home Gordie Howe using his hockey stick to intimidate Keith Olberman.

5) Stuart Scott and Maynes trying to instill big league 'tude in rookies Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Keyshawn Johnson of the New York Jets by yelling "I'm da man!" at them.

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